The New Year should begin with immense positivity – but for me I dread another increase in the cost of my daily rail commute.
This year, the Great Western line that runs through Chippenham to London saw fares rise by a comparatively small 3.1 per cent, almost palatable before you realise ticket prices are up almost a quarter in the last five years.
Before using any tricks like a split ticket, the advertised cost of an
annual season ticket from Chipp-enham to London with Under-
ground travel now costs £9,544.
This significant figure is more than my mortgage, council tax, water and gas bills combined.
If, like me, you choose to pay £916 for the monthly ticket because you don’t have the cash price of a brand new car sitting in your account – you’re paying close to £11,000 of your hard-earned wedge before you even sit down at your desk.
At 34, I’m probably the youngest commuter on my route, because at almost a three-hour round trip, Chippenham is one of the furthest points away from London that a daily commute is logically possible, and has one of the most expensive season tickets on the network.
So why do I do it? I never wanted to work in London, but the biggest, most exciting and best paying roles in my chosen profession are in the capital. I grew up in Wiltshire and I’m happy to sacrifice my evenings in order to enjoy weekends with family and friends. But the continued price hikes don’t seem to make the journey any better.
Every morning I take the 5.54am train from Chippenham. It typically graces us with its presence around five minutes late, with no acknowledgement from the automated voice that ‘apologises’ for
delays, rather than a real person. This causes amusement among the 20 to 30 regular travellers.
The train is often full to capacity before it rolls into Reading at 6.45am. It common to see passengers squeezing themselves into
luggage racks or standing two abreast in the aisles, blocking access to basic amenities like toilets.
Travel home from London around 6pm and you’ll see a train dispatcher forcing the doors shut on an overcrowded carriage with all the grace of Les Dawson packing his suitcase for Benidorm.
The problem is made worse by the unflinching stupidity of First Great Western in introducing a
policy banning people in areas outside of the First Class carriages – which remain half empty.
While rail travel has become my largest single annual expense, it saddens me to see First Great Western seemingly doesn’t encourage staff to engage in simple pleasantries or even general politeness.
Of course there are notable exceptions, but curt, surly responses are increasingly the norm.
Working on the railway must be a thankless task and staff satisfaction levels wouldn’t match those on a Caribbean cruise liner, but given I pay three times as much, I’d at least expect a smile.
So, how does the government fix our railway system? While First Great Western would largely benefit from some customer service training, handing the route to Richard Branson or even Ronald McDonald would not make this tatty fleet of 30-something trains and National Rail’s infrastructure of wonky signals and bent track operate any better. Misery would
simply get a new paint job.
Those arguing for renationalisation have clearly forgotten the bad old days of British Rail – the recollections I’ve heard from hardened commuting veterans edging closer to retirement are enough for me.
I want a service where pricing is fair and transparent – for example a seven-day ticket from Chippenham to Paddington costs £250.50 but just £203 if you buy a split ticket from Chippenham to Didcot and Didcot to Paddington.
My heart aches for the residents of Great Bedwyn and Pewsey – their peaceful villages are now invaded daily by increasingly desperate middle-aged men, driving 20 or 30 miles from their homes to board a train that costs almost 40 per cent less than the Great Western line, dumping their car anywhere they can find a free space.
What will electrification of the line through North Wiltshire bring? And how much more will the poor commuter be expected to pay for it?
Roll on 2016 – but I fear it will run as late as the trains themselves.
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